“I cannot begin to thank you enough, Admiral,” Matt said as he limped over to Josiah Parker’s table in the private dining hall of Star Fleet Command. “Bad morale? Crew are just out of sort? Hah! That ship is a disaster, and it is the crew from Hell. Sir.”
Parker’s fork stopped half-way to his mouth, and he sighed and he sat the steaming bite-sized morsel of a tender piece of fillet down back down on his china plate. “You do know this lounge is for Flag Officers and their invited guests only, correct, Captain Dahlgren?”
“Yes, sir. Commodore Jurood was kind enough to put me on the list as his guest for today, after I discovered you were in here having dinner.”
Josiah patted his lips with the napkin and placed it on the plate. “Ok, ok, Matt. Take a seat.”
Dahlgren sat. “What aren’t you telling me, Sir?”
“Damn it, Matt. You are certainly the same balls-to-the-walls, damn-the-torpedoes officer you were before Kearsage
went down. If only Edward were here to see what his protégée had become, god rest his soul.”
“Admiral Jellico was a good officer, Josiah,” Matt whispered. “And don’t forget, you served under him on Republic
a long time ago as well.”
The Admiral nodded glumly. “Why the hell did you think I wanted you in command of her, Matt? One of us has to carry on in his place, and I can’t do it—not after getting this job I am in now.”
“Look. You know how ill-prepared Star Fleet was before Wolf 359 gave the politicians and bureaucrats a kick in the ass. And you how long it took Jellico and Shelby and Shran and the rest to get the reforms out to the Fleet. Well, there was a general feeling at Headquarters that the best way to get the Fleet up to par was to remove the delinquent elements: to put them somewhere that they couldn’t screw up getting ready for the Borg.”
“I don’t how she was chosen—it was before my time as Chief of Star Fleet Operations, Matt—but Republic
was one of the ships that our problem children got sent to. And she was given milk runs where there was little chance of her running into a crisis of any sort. She wasn’t the only ship in that state, but hell, she was the only ship you and I ever served on.”
“The goal was to slowly get rid of the bad apples, but events moved too fast. And the officers who were given command of these ships weren’t the best—because we needed the best on the front lines. And over time, the bad got worse, even as the rest of the Fleet got better. And Star Fleet Command dropped any pretense at reform and used these ships a purgatory to send officers and crewmen who screwed up by the numbers.”
“We ran into the Dominion, and their Founders replaced Chancellor Martok and the Changeling convinced the Klingons to invade the Federation. We were at war, Matt. And Star Fleet Command didn’t have time for a ship full of misfits. Or a dozen ships full of misfits, as long as they didn’t interfere with the war effort.”
“Thankfully, we managed to stop the Klingons and recover the real Martok—but then the Dominion invaded in force—a fact that you know all too well. Well, the war is over now, and I got promoted and have to deal with the aftermath and try to pick up all pieces and make Star Fleet whole again.”
“Yes, I learned about Republic
shortly after I become Chief. And, yes, I sent Linda Bates out there to try and get them back up to standards—but then she was killed. By a damn civilian shield generator that overloaded, for god’s sake! And that asshole Harrison nearly started a war with the Gorn. Matt, I’ve got two choices here: either we rehabilitate that crew or we discharge them. And if we discharge them, I don’t have enough personnel to send her back to space—we would have to mothball Republic
. And the other ten ships out there like her.”
“So what I need to know, Captain Dahlgren, is this: can you turn Republic
around or not?”
Matt sighed and he sat back. “You do like throwing an old friend off the deep end, don’t you?”
The two men just sat there for a few minutes, and then Matt slowly nodded. “It won’t be pretty.”
Josiah snorted. “Like she is now?”
“I’ll need a free hand—and if I determine that a crewman can’t be salvaged, he’s gone.”
“I’ll need sixty blank personnel transfer orders, signed and authorized by your office.”
“SIXTY?” the Admiral thundered, causing other flag officers and guests to turn around and stare at the table.
Matt smiled. “Once we leave Spacedock, Admiral, if I find someone I need in my crew aboard a Starbase, an outpost, or another Starship, I don’t want to have to check back in with your office to obtain the authorization to transfer them aboard. And if it is a nonspecific transfer order—authorizing me to grab excess crew or officers—do you think any commanding officer is going to give me their best? They’ll hand me their worst—and you know they will. I want blank transfers, signed and authorized, that I can fill in at need.”
The Chief of Star Fleet Operations leaned back in his seat, and then he picked up his glass of wine and took a long swallow. “Done. Anything else?”
“Only one last issue, Admiral. The ship needs a challenge—milk runs are too routine and boring to capture the imagination of the officers and men. She needs to be pushed to her limits so that the crew remembers why they joined the Star Fleet in the first place.”
“Is she ready for that?”
“No. But, if you keep putting her in safe areas, you are only reinforcing the crew’s beliefs about how Star Fleet considers them. They will become even more convinced that they aren’t really Star Fleet and that the rules don’t apply to them.”
“I don’t need another incident like Omicron Cygnii II, Matt.”
“You won’t have one. I promise you that, at least.”
“Talk about sink or swim, Matt. Good god, man—you just said the crew isn’t ready for this!”
“It all boils down to this, Admiral: do you trust me to keep the ship together and build up that crew into something Star Fleet can be proud of, or not. Republic
needs this—the crew
needs this. I don’t think they believe me when I say we are going back out to the frontiers.”
“Ok,” Josiah said. “I’ll back your play, Matt. But I hope you know what the Hell you are doing.”
So do I, Matt thought, so do I.
“I’m still showing a fault in the focus software,” Chris Roberts said as he frowned at the display. “We need to do a full diagnostic of the system; this shouldn’t be happening.”
The ensign looked up from his station after he realized that none of his personnel had replied. “Ah, fellows? Let’s get cracking on this.”
Slowly, the crewmen began to bend back down over their consoles and pull up the schematics—they still didn’t answer him, but Roberts just swallowed. This was his first assignment out of the Academy—maybe these Fleet types more about how ships operated in the field than he did. He didn’t push them.
Suddenly, his screen blanked, and then came back on—and the fault was gone. “What just happened?” he asked.
“I fixed the fault for you, Mister Roberts,” drawled one of the crewmen, who leaned his chair back and closed his eyes again. “You have a problem with that?”
Chris frowned. There hadn’t been time for the diagnostic to run its routine . . . he sucked in his breath. “Channing, you cut out the primary circuits! This is the secondary system
“Yeah. Look, Mister Roberts, our shift ends in five minutes. If we run the diagnostics, then we have to stick around and fix the problem. I’ve had it up to here with working in my off-duty hours, so there is no way in hell I’m going to volunteer for more.”
“It’s our job to fix the fault!” pleaded Roberts.
“Look, the secondary is on-line, the deflector is at 100%, and if it goes bad, well that is why we have a tertiary system. Next watch will fix the fault and we’ll all be happy.”
Roberts gaped, and he started to speak again when the ship’s intercom suddenly came to life.
“Ensign Roberts, report to the Operations Office. Ensign Roberts, report to the Operations Office.”
Channing winced. “Why that gimp captain can’t use com badges like every other person in Star Fleet is beyond me. That damn thing has been going off all day.”
The young man looked pained at this description of their captain, but the crewmen assigned to Deflector Control with him only laughed.
“Best you get a move on, there, Mister Roberts,” drawled Channing. “Momma Biddle won’t like having to wait on a snot-nosed kid taking too long.”
Confused about what he should do, Roberts shook his head and he exited the compartment.
“How long do you think this shit will continue, Pete?” another crewman asked Channing.
“Until the gimp wises up and learns that Star Fleet ain’t gonna use us for jack. There’s no sense in doing more than we absolutely have to—he’ll get tired and either retire or lose it like Harrison did. Either way, no skin off of my nose.”
Channing and the others sat upright as they heard a dull THUD coming from the base of the ladder up to the deflector dish actuator systems a deck above.
“Is that so?” asked a man that Channing slowly recognized.
“Hi, COB,” he called out to Chief Callaghan. “We were just finish . . .”
“I know what you were doing, Channing. And I don’t care for it.”
“Look, Chief,” Channing began.
“Senior Chief,” interjected Callaghan.
“Whatever. We’ve got a routine—and we ain’t gonna disrupt it because the new captain has got his panties in a wad.”
Callaghan smiled grimly. “Clear the compartment—everyone but Channing. And you stay your asses in the corridor outside until I call you back in.”
One by one, the crewmen stood and left, leaving only Callaghan and Channing. “Crewman, I don’t like your attitude,” Callaghan said.
“Well, you’ll get over it, won’t you?”
“You’re a real hard-case. A certified bad-ass spacer, am I right?”
“Yeah. And I don’t think Roberts or you wants a piece of me.”
Callaghan shook his head. “Channing, you are too dumb. You are far too dumb to be standing there and saying things like that—why, it could be interpreted that you just threatened two superior officers. Things like that get you tossed in the brig.”
“I’ve done brig time before—no big deal.”
“Yes, you have. I checked your record, you see. And I am sure that you are thinking about how Star Fleet won’t ship you off to a real starship, because no one wants you in your crew. You’re thinking about how a transfer to a ground base just means you have more chances to pick up a willing sophont in a bar. You’re thinking that neither this ship nor this captain can do a damn thing to you that would make you regret your words and your actions.”
“Yeah. So what?”
Callaghan slammed his fist into Channing’s belly and the crewman doubled over, his gasp for breath suddenly ending as Callaghan’s knee smashed into nose. The crewman fell over and lay on the deck plates, bleeding.
“Ya bas’tad!” he squealed. “Ya cat do tat! Regs say ya cat do tat!”
“Screw the regs, Channing,” Callaghan said as he hauled the crewman to his feet and buried his fist into the younger man’s ribs. “You threatened me!” Punch. “You threatened Mister Roberts!” Punch. “You called the Captain a gimp!” PUNCH.
The Chief stepped back and released Channing’s uniform—the rating fell to the deck again and didn’t try to get up.
“Let me tell you something, Peter Channing. I served with Captain Dahlgren and I know exactly how he got that injury to his leg. You aren’t going to the brig—you aren’t getting a transfer off this ship. No sweetheart, you’re ass is mine
and you belong to me
. For the duration of your career. Or you can resign from Star Fleet; you've only got three months left on your enlistment. Hell, I would endorse that request.”
Callaghan stood straight and tapped his comm badge. “Sick Bay. Medical emergency in Deflector Control.”
,” answered a voice on the far end of the link.
“You see, Pete,” Callaghan whispered as he knelt beside the battered crewman on the deck. “There are all sorts of regulations about how bad it is for someone to strike a superior officer—but there ain’t one about a superior officer striking a subordinate. Now, you could press charges against me for conduct unbecoming or for criminal assault. And I could press charges against you for dereliction of duty as to your shutting down the primary array. Either way, I will get a slap on the wrist—or do you think the XO, our Andorian
XO, is going to toss me into a brig cell for slapping a piece of shit like you around?”
“The times, they are a-changing, Pete. And you better adapt real fast or you’re gonna find yourself extinct. Real soon.”